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Gregory Freidin on Isaac Babel

Gregory Freidin is Professor of Slavic at Stanford University. He was educated first in the USSR and then went on to receive his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California – Berkeley in 1979 with a thesis on Osip Mandelstam. He has been at Stanford since 1978. He was chair of the Slavic Department […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
And we're coming to you live from the Stanford campus.
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History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.
James Joyce once said,
"The only problem is that when you awake from history,
you can't tell yourself that it was only a nightmare.
The reality of the thing won't go away,
even as it recedes into the past.
Nothing can undo the 20th century,
one of the worst dreams in human history,
beginning with the unreal horrors of the First World War,
and moving on from there to the Second World War,
and from there, onto other atrocities.
I'm not here to depress you, my friends.
You know that this show is about seeking out the asylum of literature,
and the sanctuaries of the human imagination.
But every now and then, we have to look at the Medusa head of reality,
and get petrified.
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Speaking of the Medusa head,
one of the most petrifying books I've ever read is
the black book of communism,
crimes, terror, repression,
edited by Stefan Kuftoa,
900 pages long,
first published in France in 1997.
This book draws on the recently opened archives of the KGB,
and gives us what amounts to a body count of communism's victims
in the 20th century.
Not just casualties, victims.
25 million in Russia, during the Bolshevik and Stalinist eras,
maybe 65 million under China, under Mao,
2 million in Cambodia,
millions more in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America,
in some, somewhere between 80 and 100 million deaths in all.
Even if the count is off by half that number,
which is certainly is not,
we're talking about a nightmare from which there is no awakening.
But there's far more to the catastrophe of world communism than the body count.
There's the deathly system under which those who survived it were forced to live,
the sheer demoralization of it all.
And only now are we beginning to learn about the inconceivable magnitude
of the environmental destruction that took place in communist regimes around the world.
Awake, shake dreams from your hair, my pretty child.
Shake the bad dreams from your hair.
Why are you picking on the communists today, Harrison?
There are plenty of other villains to go around.
Oh, I know that, but I'm not done yet.
Because when it comes to the murderous absurdity of world communism,
there's another disaster that we need to add to the list.
I mean the way Stalinism in the early decades of the 20th century,
stomped to death, the great artistic promise of Russia.
The way it wasted the soul of its artists.
Look at their fates, clebnikov, starvation,
mayakovsky, suicide,
Mandelshtam, exile, starvation,
babel, executed, Zamiatin, Bulgakov, Peelniak, Olisha,
all silenced or barred from publication,
all stomped to death.
And that's just for starters.
T.S. Eliot wrote that what might have been is an abstraction
remaining a perpetual possibility only in the world of speculation.
For lovers of culture, it is particularly painful
to speculate about what Russian art and literature might have become in the 20th century.
The extraordinary ways they might have continued to blossom as they continued to modernize
had Russia been spared the devastation of Soviet communism.
And when I say devastation, I mean precisely that.
There's a difference between destruction and devastation.
One can recover from destruction.
Devastation, on the other hand, does not allow for recovery.
It's total and final.
Communism did to the wildly creative soul of Russian artists,
what the nuclear power plant did to Chernobyl, devastated it.
Crushed it to death with its ARPPs, its chief,
and its military committees, its peoples' comissar for education.
And everything that was done, including the 85 million dead,
was done in the name of doing good.
There are indecency and obscenity laws that apply to this station's broadcasts,
and I am sworn to uphold them.
I have with me in the studio my friend and colleague Professor Grisha Frisian,
who was one of the most distinguished scholars of modern Russian cultural history around,
and we're going to talk with him today about Russia during the early decades of the 20th century,
especially about the literature of that period, and in particular about the writer, Easek Babel.
Professor Frisian has just finished editing the Norton Critical Babel,
an impressive piece of work that will soon be out,
and which I've had the privilege to look at in manuscript at least in part.
Thank you, Dr. Prisian.
Welcome to our program.
It's great to be here.
So, I would like to quote to you a sentence to begin with by the great critic Lionel Trilling,
who wrote an essay in 1955 on Babel, actually, in which he says the following,
"No event in the history of Soviet culture is more significant than the career,
or rather the end of the career of Easek Babel."
Now, before we tell our listeners exactly who Easek Babel was,
can I ask you, do you agree with that statement of Lionel Trilling?
I almost agree.
In 1955, I think this was an absolutely true statement.
Yes, what people knew at that time.
And of course, he said this because for people like Trilling,
who had left just credentials early on,
and who began moving away from communism already in the 1930s,
the figure of Easek Babel was enormously significant,
because it was the personal story of what happened to the Russian revolution,
to the Bolshevik revolution, to the Marxist revolution.
And Trilling was very, in 1955,
he was very much involved in trying to move the intellectuals in the United States,
to open their eyes at what went on in the Soviet Union.
This was a crucial period in American history as well,
because the country was coming out of the McCarthy era,
and people tended to downplay the horrors of communism.
It was the time when the horrors of communism were beginning to be acknowledged.
And it was also the time after the Second World War in the United States,
when America was becoming a very different country,
it was becoming a country of open citizenship, which was not the case in the prior to the war.
So he was in other item there, maybe of interest,
it was also the time, what, seven years, six, seven years after the establishment of the state of Israel,
which was established in violence.
So Easek Babel was interesting to Trilling, also as a writer,
who addressed violence head on, and he was a Jewish writer, as well as a Russian writer.
So 1955, important date for making a statement like that.
Do you think there's any exaggeration entailed in the statement that nothing is more important in the history of the culture than the career of this band?
Or if you do agree with that, maybe we should probe what it was about the career of this writer that led Trilling to make such a declaration.
Well, he certainly is one of the most significant Russian writers of the 20th century.
That's no question about it.
And he was the way he developed as a writer, was a complete identification, or at least the way people read him.
They identified him with the fate of the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Revolution, of course, was the great utopian moment in the history of the world.
It was, it changed the face of the world.
It was an attempt to bring into practice the utopian vision of Karl Marx.
So there is a whole history of emancipation, of rationalism, of materialism that was of creating a paradise on earth, an old dream, an old human dream that was put to the test in Russia,
and changed the face of our culture of our history.
I mean, you began with talking about the horrors of communism.
One can add to the, well, I'm not necessarily a horse, but to the complexity of the picture, the fact that probably if it had not been for the victory of the Russian Revolution in the victory of the Russian Revolution, perhaps fascism would not have had such a long and successful run through the first half of the time.
Because fascism in many ways borrowed things from communism, and back ultimately was a reaction to communism.
So the fear of the Bolshevik communism drove people into embrace fascism out of fear.
That makes communism a double evil in my book.
In fact, if it wasn't already enough.
It was a human, it was a human evil.
So let's look at it this way.
It was definitely a human evil in the sense that it started with very good intentions.
Well, that's what, yeah, human sometimes we say that it's human to have failings.
There can be original sin and that sometimes we do evil despite ourselves.
But the grotesque quality of communism is exactly as you said, that it was all in the name of doing good and in a kind of belief that there was a goodness in human nature that led to these kind of atrocities.
We're better off with a doctrine of original sin than we are with a doctrine that perhaps the doctrine of original sin in a way, you know, dialectically creates a doctrine of a perfect human being.
I think it's a much better kind of epistemology of it is much better in the United States where you have human beings who are both bad and good at the same time and one has to create a poverty in which these items are balanced out.
Russia, Russian intellectual development, intellectual and political development belongs in the 20th century.
Unfortunately belongs to the kind of this resource Marxist tradition, which saw the human being as a good being and all the failings were of the human being were attributed to the wrong society.
Communism was finally to establish a good society. So those people who did not fit into that good society were probably not human.
That was the idea. In other words, out of the communist would resign and disappear from power or they have to stick to their guns and eliminate people who are not human or maybe try first to reeducate them or just disenfranchise them and later on simply to get rid of them.
So which actually happened in the Soviet Union?
So do you think that if you see them as not fully human then I suppose you can go on eliminating them without a second thought, without any, the moral issue doesn't even arise.
Precise the good people to get rid of the non-humans. That's very easy.
It's a kind of a cenetation, a cenetation, a department job. You can't really be sorry for them.
So we want to talk about Isaac Babel as the individual and the writer that he was but also the way in which his career reveals so much about the issues of the era that we're talking about.
The way he kind of exploded onto the scene of history during the revolution and the way maybe history also appropriated him for its own purposes.
But maybe we'll take a step back and tell our listeners who was Isaac Babel, a brief biography.
Very briefly he was born in 1894, he was born in Odessa. Odessa was the south-western age of Rashid.
It was the main port of Rashid, port of Rashid, outside St. Petersburg.
For a while it was the gateway for all the grain that came out of Rashid and went all over the place.
I mean actually people ate pasta in Italy, made with Ukrainian grain.
So it was a vibrant city. It also happened to be to have, because it was in the western part of Rashid.
It was in the so-called Pale of Settleman. That is to say the area of the Rashid Empire where Jews were allowed to settle in cities.
They were not actually allowed to settle in the countryside.
And so this was a very successful in bourgeois outpost in the old regime, Rashid Empire, which had about one third of the population with Jewish.
Many of the economic elite were Jews. I mean there was also a pretty terrible area that was also Jewish.
But Bibi was very lucky not to have grown up really in a ghetto, because Odessa was a very secular Jewish city.
It was founded by Italians, French and Italians, the Italian opera.
It was the seat for Rashid, it was the center of the Jewish enlightenment.
So he did not really grow up kind of a damage by terrible ghetto discrimination and marginalization.
So that was very important. He also grew up at the time when Rashid was experiencing what we may call not even a mini renaissance.
I would say a mini renaissance. It was a great time for Rashid art, for Ash and Littrich, for Ash and Poetry, for Ash and Music.
And Rashid was at that point, which had already been discovered with the Littrich of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
But it was now being discovered as a much more kind of interesting and multi-various cultural oasis in Europe.
This is the growing up at the time of the Balerus.
The music of Stravinsky, great Rashid Nithida of Stony Slavsky and Meyer Holt.
He became a very speaking of Meyer Holt, who was the mentor for Eisenstein.
And this time, by Bill, was a very good friend of Sir Gai's and Stein. So by Bill, it was really enmeshed in the incredible artistic renaissance.
And Rashid, before the First World War, after the revolution of 1905 when Rashid became sort of a quasi-consitutional monarchy.
And up to the time of the First World War, Rashid was an incredible artistic, I don't want to say, hot house, but rather a region of incredible experimentation that they actually defined very much the direction and the forms of art in the West.
Now, a few years ago, there was an exhibition in Paris that showed the influence and the presence of artists from Eastern Europe in Paris in the 1920s, to what extent they really created what we know as modern art.
I have no doubts that you had a sense that it was really burgeoning, it was only at the beginning of a process that I think then was brutally aborted by Stein.
But here is where I would like to disagree with you. I also would make a big fat footnote about evil.
Evil was really the First World War.
It was the First World War that really created a kind of forces of mass mobilization. It created an unbelievable number of victims who could not be, who's victim, who could not be justified really.
It destroyed the male population of Western Europe, for generations, and was felt for generations.
And had it not been for the devastation of the First World War, there's no question that Bolsheviks would never have even a glimmer of hope, or whatever taking power.
It was on the ruins of Europe that the Bolshevik revolution took shape.
And that was very significant. Now, about Bibern, he was born in a death scene during that great period, but just a few words specifically about him.
He was born in a kind of a middle-class family. He had a very good middle-class education, that is to say he had to do the violin.
He learned French, German, and English. He actually, his first writings actually were in French.
He hung out with the French colony in a death scene, which was very big. There was also an English colony there and a German colony.
It was a really kind of a cosmopolitan European provincial European capital, I would say.
So, Bibern, he really imbibed that vibrancy of the city. He actually lived in it for a very short time.
He left in 1911 to go to college. Actually, it was a business college, business school where he got an economics degree eventually.
Later on, he went on to St. Petersburg, where he was studying to get a law degree, but of course, it was probably more writing than studying law problems, kept all the classes.
But his father still supported him there. And that's in 1916, he happened to be fingered by the great Russian writer at that time, kind of the heir to the glory of the stay-off skin tall story, Maxim Gorky.
Gorky recognized by the genius and had him published actually within about two months of being in St. Petersburg, Bibern was discovered by the greats of Russian writer, and published right next to Gorky's own memoirs.
The memoirs that were at that time being serialized, really probably his most interesting book, and there he was, you know, this guy from Odessa, who had barely, you know, had learned to be a writer.
He was right there on the same table of contents page with Maxim Gorky. So, that's how his career was launched.
So, then he felt that he had to participate in this great historical moment of the revolution, and that he had to somehow become a man of action of sorts, and he joins the forces to go into Poland for the Civil War.
Let's reel back for just one second. I mean, you are a West Europeanist, and you know perfectly well the kind of a depression that overtook the mental world of a Western Europe and the wake of the First World War.
I mean, you win no wasteland, right? And that's and so on. Now, in Russia, the mood was very different because of the revolution.
That moment was not the moment of closure. It was that perhaps also, but that closure was really underneath an indelible enthusiasm and a belief in the possibility of building a new world.
The Bolsheviks took over, I mean, they pushed the country into the Civil War in order to start the world revolution. Well, not everybody was a Bolshevik.
I mean, actually, a few people among the intelligentsia sympathized with them. They preferred social democracy over much more moderate kind. But the country got polarized, the Civil War polarized that much further, and essentially, the other party in the Civil War was not really terribly attractive.
One was in the state of that kind of a polarization, one has to sometimes sit down to sub put the devil. And Biber actually did sit down and nobody has seen or beyond the historical horizons, and nobody really thought that what would become the Soviet Union was going.
I mean, that this was the beginning of what would later become the Soviet Union and the Empire we will to ironically court Reagan. But so Biber, as most of his fellow writers was willing to go along with the Bolsheviks later on Trotsky, but called on fellow travels.
That was to say they were going some halfway with the Bolsheviks. They were going, they liked the modernization idea. And so that was one point. But for Biber, I think, he was exempt from military service because of his physical ailments and so on.
But in 1920, he suddenly realized that if he were to be a really a writer, he had to share in the experience of his generation. And that was the experience of the trenches of violence.
And he jumped into something that he probably came to regret quite a number of times and then of course was very lucky that he had done it. He became a war correspondent. He got himself to be a war correspondent with the Karsak army of Simeon Boudonley that was attacked and went on their attack into Poland to essentially start the world revolution.
And then, through that experience, he will write up the red cavalry, which is one of his main works. But let me ask a question about the paradox of a Jewish intellectual joining a Karsak army to go into Poland when we know that the Kozaks were part of, they were the instrument of repression of the Thor.
They were the right police. They were extremely anti-intellectual and they were also, I don't know if you would call them anti-Semitic, but whenever it came to pogroms and things of that sort, the Kozaks were the ones doing it. There's a recollection of Babel's childhood when I believe in 1905 when
There, Babyls father's store is being looted and destroyed by people there in Odessa.
And there's a close-act commander who is supposed to be maintaining the piece and just
stands by while Babyls father's on his knees begging the commander to intervene and the
close-act there just impassibly allowing the looters to continue their activity.
Babyls then goes and joins the co-secondary rights to the red cavalry which is no way a glorification of the
co-sex but it's about admiration for the co-sex.
Have we explained that?
I mean a Jewish person on the one hand and an intellectual on the other.
Well this is the whole paradox and conundrum of the revolution because of course the head of
the military at that time was another Jewish, Leon Trotsky and so the co-sex were doing his bidding.
Now for Babyl as his mother he actually did not tell his family what he was doing because
they probably would have had him tied up and would not have allowed him to get out of the house.
So he decided to go there that was an incredible act of courage.
What this is about is that a writer is willing to risk his life in order to get a story.
Now we know about a lot of worker response who have done that.
In the case of Babyl he was not simply a reporter and a writer.
He was a great poet and a poet of fiction and the diary that he kept during that campaign
became the basis for probably the most famous work about the Russian revolution and that
is the cycle of historian Red Cavary which has one single narrator which is sort of a Bible's alter ego.
And it is the time we should also remember that this is the kind of the beginning of the Zionist movement
or at least it's in its first decades and the Zionist movement advocated violence, the use of violence.
So in a way one could choose at that time to be either a Zionist or to be with the Communists and for a Jew, this choice involved violence in either case.
Yeah, and Trilling Zessay, I know that it might be dated, it's 1955 but I found it very compelling as I read it twice actually in preparation for our conversation.
Making the point that violence was not unproblematic for Babyl and the question that you have in certain of those stories like after the battle is whether not Babyl's personal courage to go and expose himself
to danger and death. But whether he had it in him actually to commit an act of violence, especially killing a fellow human being.
And according to Trilling there is this on the one hand this admiration for the co-sex who had no such compunctions.
And then this other law that comes through his Jewish heritage, a Dauschil not kill and the tension between these two sides of the issue or produce the particular kind of aesthetic intensity of the red cavalry.
You know, Babyl definitely was a Jewish writer but one should not overemphasize this fact. He was probably I would say first and foremost a Russian writer or he was a Russian Jewish writer.
He was a secular writer and to participate in the great Western tradition of secular writing which began actually with a love story and a big battle called the the Iliad.
One had to learn how to handle both violence and romance. So for Babyl then as an author there was no question that he would have to deal with violence.
He distinguished himself from a writer whom he admired enormously from the Jewish writer, he described whom he admired enormously,
she told Malay him this modern, you know, the father of modern, you just literature. So she told Malay him's milk man, the Tevia who is really not a vegetarian exactly but he's a milk man, he does not slaughter.
Okay, Babyl wants to show that he is going to participate fully in the in the Western European literary tradition and that would involve violence. So for him it was never for him it was never an issue.
What he creates, he creates a narrator, his alter ego in in red cavalry. He makes him not even so much a Jew.
We don't actually find out right away that this man is Jewish, you know, until perhaps the latest stories in red cavalry. He's an intellectual.
Intellectuals like us, you know, we do not use fisticuffs, you know, we go and you know negotiate an argument so on so forth. So we detest violence with you would think that it's the last resort.
Right, so so this is he wanted to express a paradox of an intellectual who wants to do good for humanity.
Okay, having to cause not only pain, but death and suffering and the paradoxical and the joke and the irony that Babyl presents with which Babyl presents us in red calories that this intellectual,
who supervises those classics who go to battle and cause all this mayhem. Okay, and they of course sometimes participate in the pogroms and he talk rights about it there.
That this intellectual himself when he has to go in a right into battle does not load his gun. So so this is there is a really deep question about the responsibility of intellectuals.
Okay, and that is the question that was earlier raised by the steersky of course in the brothers carmas of right the one carmas of does not did not kill his father, but his disciples merely the core who did not have any
a lot of problems about such things did. So the intellectual isn't this strange position, you know, not trying not to dirty his own hands because he has these history and compunctions and at the same time driving a brutal force against what at that time was you know the existing civilization.
And of course this raises the issue with stepping outside of the Babyl context about what relationship does the Marxist intellectual of Western Europe have to violence as a means of bringing about revolution and a better society and all the ambiguities that you get with these people like Jean Paul Saffth and the French intellectual.
I mean this is this is the old story of means ends, you know, I think that the everybody who goes to the studies political science has to answer that question of the enduring morals.
So, Babyl publishes the red cavalry and is immediately it's seen as one of a great work. He's taken up his a favored a favored of Stalin.
He's not really not exactly but nevertheless he's a name is a big name he's a man on the town now in St. Petersburg.
Moscow actually the captain has been the captain had moved to Moscow.
And then he also writes his other stories of the Odessa tales and sometime around you know the early 30s he's the man to a certain extent right.
In the mid-19th winds he's mid to late 20s.
And at a certain point it goes silent or at least is not able to produce works the way that he that he was doing before.
There's something there that kind of gets in the way.
Silence is a great subject with respect to what in fact it is a great subject.
I have to you know the theme song of this program is called Silence Must Be Heard.
Yes let's talk about silence. Yes well let's talk first about the loudness you know he's his Odessa story alter ego the the Jewish gangster Benia Creek you know he has the reputation of speaking very little but speaking very well.
And if we take Babyl's stories of the mid-1920s that were completed there here was published began publication in Moscow 19th.
We take these stories out of history completely just bring them to Stanford and read them and then we ask ourselves did this man support the revolution or did this man not support the revolution we would not be able to answer in their formative or in the negative we would say this man is puzzled he's exploring the moral the aesthetic you know all those issues you know between intellectuals violence good bad and you know and in the middle everything right.
So it was really written that way actually but history did a trick on Bible when the stories came out and suddenly became became an almost lipopular and he suddenly was translated into major European languages right away and became this you know being began to be lionized.
It didn't really matter what he wrote now he was a famous man famous writer who was created by the revolution and he accepted that mantle you know because it's old copied you know it's very hard it's very hard to argue with success okay he accepted accepted that.
But in order to write in the same vein because he's writing for him was I would even say practically a you know a deep religious experience he could not pre-variicate and he's in his writing.
I know I think as you put it elsewhere that he was not capable of false notes precisely that that is the that that is what really turned heads all over the place in the 20th century and he still of course taught an all creator writing class on short story and so on he.
So he had to practice his genius but the genius was such that it was less and less compatible with what was going on in the Soviet Union and he tried to twist himself and he tried to find a compromise and not not a compromise in terms of in more or less state
But he tried to find some kind of a middle way in which he's genius he's way of looking at things his poetic persona could participate in the culture of what was increasingly at the
vegetarian state and of course these things were not working out now the silence he's very famous in 1934 at the writers congress you know he made this speech and said that he was you know practicing or literary silence.
He was a great master of literary silence actually he was at this point because this was not really writing he was pre-variicating he had actually had produced by that time you know after the after at Cali he had produced two plays.
A lot of stories about his childhood they were tiny but real a real master pieces but he did not want to trot them out because as he said in some other occasion you know I'm like that little girl you know who is invited to the ball and everybody likes her and so on but once she starts dancing everybody begins to be very critical of her and saying what is she doing that this ball.
So he did not feel that that he could even even though he was published he could not feel that he could trot his stuff out for ultimate creative for you know for the for the increase in criticism he was very fortunate by the.
He had the he was patronized not patronized he was a I mean he's patron his great and friend and protector was Maxime Guarkey who was in the early 1930s really probably the most.
The second most important person after Stalin and he.
Guarkey protected him from what could it be in the much earlier expression of Stalin's ire because after all the this Polish campaign and that very bad actually it was the one war that the Soviet Union.
The part from Afghanistan that was much later so the polls actually did be the Russians in this in this particular case and Stalin did participate in this defeat actually made some mistakes.
But Guarkey protected him can I ask about the silence where there's two ways to conceive of silence one is the writer refusing to write or speak the other is the way.
Bobbels genius was embedding or impregnating his stories with silence in the sense of not saying.
Exactly what they were about that there's a secrecy in when when you read some of those stories they're not only like conic but there's something enigmatic and not forthcoming out into the open.
And it's kind of wrapped up in a core of silence at the heart of these words and this of course produce is what would you call it you could call it ambiguity that's a kind of banal word when you know when he comes to literature over use over determine but.
Nevertheless the inability to stabilize the order of significance or meaning and this of course could have been very unsettling for the communist.
I mean where does he stand precisely where what can we make of him and.
So that's one issue the other is as you said if you take those works out of the context you bring the Stanford you read them you don't know it's it's also very hard to sometimes find out what he's actually up to in some of these stories.
The grass so that you know one of your favorites which I read is it's a very strange tale of you know Italian theater coming to a desk giving a.
A performance and it has that moment where there's this big leap of one of the characters who leaps across the stage and actually with his teeth you know attacks the throat of his.
Of his rival and and and then.
They're walking away from this from the performance and a father and I mean a husband and wife the wife convinces the husband to give a watch back to a.
Anyway and you say well what's the story really about it.
There's no way to determine exactly.
There's no way to get into the silence so that as an example of how difficult.
Sometimes it is it is a it is a great story about simplicity of.
You know this is against the Sicilian theater in a very simple sort of very much like a popular carnival or circus really.
And it's a great story about the simplicity of art.
Possibly that that great art could be very simple and could excite in credible passion.
And it can also that that simplicity and passion are redemptive so this is.
As surface you know kind of interpretation of the story we can talk about it that way.
But if you we insert it into Bible is actual situation this is 1937 he's expecting to be arrested any day.
Or most of his friends had already been arrested.
He will stay in this state for two years until 1939.
But if you insert it into his biography and that's why I was became interested in biography.
You feel the blanks in that story.
You understand that the story is practically is a plea for mercy for an artist to be forgiven by the father.
And the father of course at that time was the was telling.
The one of the intrigues in the stories that the boys as Calper he had had to hawk his father's watch.
And he's afraid that you know the the the one of the head of the scalpers would not would not return the watch.
And he's afraid of his father's anger when he finds out that he had stolen his gold watch.
But the performance of the grass so softens hearts and the watch is returned and the father will no longer be angry.
And the boy would not have to flee to England.
And he had already decided to kind of to to be smuggled out by a by an English by an English sailor.
In the port city and by bit of course had several opportunities to immigrate from town structure but he always returned.
It was it may have been a bit mistake but what is interesting he was he was arrested in 39 and shot in 19 in January 1940 had he gone to France.
The French police certainly had him on its you know on its list of Jews and Communists.
And by the time I don't think he would have survived until 1941 because by the times the by the time the Germans marched into Paris.
He would have been delivered on on on a platter to the to the Gestapo.
So there's no question about that so he so this was the and this was the dilemma the terrible dilemma for the intellectuals in the in the middle of the 20th century in the late 19th
Okay, they were squeezed between communism on the one hand and fascism on the other and so in this sense you know you return to trailing.
By the story he what happened to him is really most significant even today because it is not only the fate of the revolution it is the fate of the intellectuals in Europe.
And the kind of a choice that many of them had to force to confront.
After all you know the Stalin first may you know signed a pact with Hitler.
So he went together with Hitler and later on you know Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and so I mean Soviet Russia became a major factor in the victory of the allies on the second one in defeating communist.
So history really is not a good and evil I mean does not does not easily fall into these two categories.
So one it's just what you the devil is around you have to have supple with the devil but you must bring a long spoon and the long spoons are not available always.
Well my view on that generally is that ideology right or left whenever you have ideologies taken to an extreme on one side it's going to almost invariably provoke the resurgence of it on the other side and the people who are left in the middle to be squeezed are as you said it's not just the intellectuals and the writers but it's who those intellectuals and writers are speaking for.
And that's you know most of us.
Why does Bible get arrested finally?
We don't know you know when you have millions people arrested it was really you know there's a lack of the draw.
I think that why why he had not been arrested we can I think we can probably talk about it.
But he had not been arrested up to 1939 because up to 1939 Stalin tried to convince France England and the United States more purely but France and England and England especially because England was the reigning power.
And in Europe at that time to form an alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.
Now England France were you know leery of it because you know that would have involved really the swallowing of fallen by the Soviet Union.
Poland did not want to be swallowed as a as a price for this alliance.
And so in 1939 in in about April 1939 the decision is made not that the alliance with the Western European democracies will not take place.
And so Bible who had been a very important you know he was well known in France and spoke good French and had important friends among left intellectuals there.
So Bible who had been a kind of the human face of Stalinism you know he was a kind of the property of the regime.
And by the who used to go to France and participate in the United States and the United States and the United States and the United States and Congress and so on was that kind of a you know what the was a portrait that the Soviet that Stalin would would trot how to convince Western opinion that there are great writers and there is a could be different so opinion and so on.
So if he is really a great humanistic bulwark against the Nazis he was no longer needed. So once Stalin decided to form an alliance with Nazi Germany.
By being was dispensable and he was dispensed with instantly.
The first kind of a big signal that the Stalin gives is the second of Maximilit Vinnoff who was a pro Western foreign minister on the him.
He sacked him on May 3rd and on May 15th you know so to make sure that the people in Berlin you know get the message.
He also arrested the probably most most important Soviet Jewish writer.
So they heard it in Berlin. What is interesting why don't they understood that?
Didn't the commander or the person who in charge of arresting him actually have no idea why he.
Bob will have needed to be arrested and actually asked Bob. Why you think I arrested you know not everybody not everybody is as competent and we have stands for it.
You know the case sometimes the NKVD the secret police was you know didn't know what the left arm did not know but the right arm was blue.
By being was arrested probably that was a political decision to to send perhaps to send the signal to Germany. I don't know this is my conjecture.
And the he was charged only two weeks after his arrest. So his first interrogation takes place two or three days after he's arrested and the interrogator says not knowing really what to say says.
Why do you think he were arrested the Bible has the most remarkable answer. He says because I have not published in the last few years.
But that could have been true even if it was true. And it was true. And it was an astalan belief that he owed him a book.
It was absolutely to a writer was was the property of the state and had to produce the stuff that the state needed.
Bible did not produce it. He kept postponing he could actually some couple of weeks before before he's arrest.
He got a phone call from the head of the writers union telling him that Stalin was interested when his book was coming up.
But here Grecia the question about Stalin the guy obviously apart from his demonic possessions. He was a smart individual. He was also a writer himself who wrote poetry like Mao.
He cannot have been so stupid as to believe that you could ask writers to write on demand for on behalf of the state and produce authentic genuine works of art because you have to do the work of being the engineer of the of the Russian soul.
Of course not everybody can do that but some can people like Eisenstein and Pudovkin.
You know great composers like Prokovia had no problem doing that. You know you just you know and some of them who cannot maybe they can learn and if they don't learn well you know I mean we have other agencies dealing with people who do not do things we want.
What is interesting I want to point out that just occurred to me actually that look at the three kind of monsters of the 20s and she is Stalin Mao and Hitler they were all artists.
What about other poets and writers and artists that were arrested by Stalin was it all kind of part of the same story or were there particular cases in circumstances in each case.
The story Mandoshtam for example what is remarkable about this for the fact that we now have access or it's getting more difficult now but still we have access to the documents from the secret police.
Mandoshtam we thought that you know was arrested and this great sweep of the purges and so on but now we know why they arrested him they arrested him because the writers in the writers union did not want his disturbing presence among them that he was at the time of poor man miserable man he was not really in his own mind.
And they felt that he was kind of causing trouble and perhaps exposing them to some kind of danger on the part of the secret police so they he was denounced and shipped with the five years sentence five years sentence was very allied by those by those standards and died of starvation in the Far East.
So the country and we know that from East Germany also so many people collaborated with the secret police.
I used to know a man who was the chairman of the presidential committee on rehabilitation of the victims of Stalinist repression.
And I learned something from him.
He was at a certain point he spoke to a rather large audience of people like myself who were critics of communism and so on.
He said do you understand that you know judging by the papers I see one in three in four in this country you know had denounced somebody.
So the war that I didn't catch that one in one in one in three or four in which country in the in the Soviet Union in the Soviet Union.
Yes, he had been going through all those archives in his committee one in three or four had you know at least once denounced somebody.
Okay secretly and so on.
So this he was trying to say you know you think that it would be easy to create you know democracy in this country.
It would be easy to just simply throw out communism and then everybody's going to be happy.
He was saying you have to know what happened to the people during those years.
Okay that it's not it's not so simple that that you know one in three or four had been compromised you know by by the region morally compromised and it's very hard to have a democracy with people with that kind of a population.
So which is probably a lesson you know you'll listen to that that should be heard in Washington sometimes.
Now in my opening remarks I said that I made a distinction between devastation and destruction that you don't recover from devastation that and that what would have the 20th century had gone on to becoming the arts and literature and Russia.
Was I being extreme there to say that there was a devastation that took place and if so has the collapse of communism if indeed it is a collapse actually not quite clear at the moment where that stands but is there in your view a possibility for recovery in a serious way in Russia.
Well the Russian arts you know received on the one hand they were released from censorship and the literary artistic scene in Russia is absolutely incredible right now.
It's very rich good stuff is coming out all the time in all the genres especially actually poetry poetry is quite quite fantastically good.
But what are the poetry survives somehow much better these things but something like the rest.
Yeah the novel is a much more fragile genre I think and it was such a great tradition there and that I would be very curious to know what is what happened subsequent to the sound and what is going to happen to the Russian novel.
Well so the Russians you know received this gift.
The censorship was a you know there are huge numbers of publishers many the huge number of theaters and concert halls you know several operas or orchestras and so on so everything is absolutely fine.
But what came with that freedom was also capitalism I guess it's pretty you know it's not really the American style it's some other wild style but it's capitalism and it's a huge variety of everything.
So if before if you finally had your book published it was published in the you know hundred thousand copies today it you will get it only in five hundred thousand copies.
So the reading public is diversified before you understood that communism was this great evil and you could embrace you could write a novel that had a you know like Grossman or Solzhenitsyn you could write a novel that that
really could see the entire could could see the entire world and have some kind of a common denominator for it you know the common denominator or we will become a denominator or when
that that that permeates the entire fabric of society at this point it's very hard to do is it why I was suffering is it because there's hazing in the army or you know because we don't have enough medical care or because there's racial death
and it's a very hard to be a solution needs and now it's impossible really because there are so many voices and that is great democracy that kind of a free
them may be not so good for literature perhaps whether it's so able to the people we've been speaking with professor Grisha Frieden who teaches here at Stanford in the Department of Slavics.
My name is Robert Harrison for entitled opinions Grisha has been a fascinating talk and will continue our dialogue at another moment but thanks for coming on to the show and I want to thank our listeners for tuning in every week
remind you that we have a web page just go to the Stanford homepage click on entitled opinions and you can access prior shows leave your comments and stay tuned for
I was coming up at the top of the hour and just a minute or two with at the cafe Bohemian and will be with you next week bye by Grisha thank you